Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker

A big tip of the hat to Steve Weaver who tweeted a link to this article from the Wall Street Journal. It looks at the emotional and physical effects that certain musical elements have on listeners, using Adele’s song “Someone Like You” as an example. They also look at other “tear-jerker” pieces from history, including Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Mendelssohn’s “Trio for Piano“.

Take a look at what they found:

Chill-provoking passages, they found, shared at least four features. They began softly and then suddenly became loud. They included an abrupt entrance of a new “voice,” either a new instrument or harmony. And they often involved an expansion of the frequencies played. In one passage from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488), for instance, the violins jump up one octave to echo the melody. Finally, all the passages contained unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony. Music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern.

Read the rest here.

I also appreciated (and concur with) Steve’s comments on the article in two followup tweets:

“Sadly, many Christians mistake this phenomenon for the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen churches sing the same song over & over to keep this going.”

“The article is a great reminder of both how God created music to affect humans and how it can be manipulated for nefarious purposes.”

Here is the famous video. View it and weep:

How’s THAT for a Valentine’s Day post?

2 comments on “Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker

  1. Enoch says:

    NPR also weighed in on this topic:

    Actually, I remember listening to an NPR program a year or two ago that talked about a similar sort of emotional “cryings out” in folk music that has made its way into country music. Not a fan of the twang myself, but I can appreciate it if I keep sufficient intellectual distance.

    I just did a quick search and couldn’t find the program I’m referencing, but then again, I didn’t look very hard.

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